Nat Geo Travel sent Carlton Ward to photograph Florida’s pristine parks, including Everglades National Park. The Everglades cover such a large swath of land that Ward felt the best way to capture it all was from an airplane high above the park.
Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and protects the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi River. It’s also the third largest national park in the U.S., behind Death Valley and Yosemite. However expansive, the park only protects 20 percent of the historic Everglades ecosystem, which stretches over half of the Florida Peninsula.
To showcase an area this big, it is really helpful to get up in the air. This is especially true in the Everglades, where the highest natural elevation is only a few feet above sea level.
I met a pilot in Everglades City. A priority for my flight was to capture the largest contiguous protected mangrove forest in the Western Hemisphere. The mangroves around Everglades City make up an area called the Ten Thousand Islands, where an intricate matrix of mangroves and bays can be best appreciated from above.
We flew in a Cessna 172 with a window that opened, and the pilot flew from the right so that I could more easily pivot to my left and have the mangroves in sight. To add perspective to the scene, we sought out a boat that was tracing its way through the mangrove maze. Knowing that we’d be making some tight circles, I fortified my stomach with a dose of Bonine a few hours before.
With the plane moving at nearly a hundred miles per hour and the boat cruising at nearly 30 miles per hour, getting the right angle required coordination and some luck.
This photo also included a surprise. Whether from a jolt of turbulence or from following the composition too high, I accidentally included the bottom of the wing in the frame, where the window captured a reflection of the scene below.
Tips: When photographing from an airplane, it is important to have a removable door or window that opens. The lower you fly, the higher the shutter speed you need to produce crisp photos. Use higher ISOs and smaller aperture numbers (such as ISO 1600 and f/4) to maximize shutter speeds. I prefer 1/2000 of a second or higher. You can get away with less when orbiting or shooting wide-angle. Pay attention to keep the lens inside the slipstream of the airplane, because wind at a hundred miles per hour can cause serious vibration.
Photographed with a Nikon D800E and a 70-200mm, f/2.8 lens.
Follow Carlton Ward on Instagram @carltonward.